Tata Communications’ digital chief talks digitisation, AI

Image courtesy of Tata Communications

C R Srinivasan – or Srini for short – has been steeped in business technology for nearly three decades. In his career, he has custom-created platform-based solutions, utilised technology to enhance customer experiences, differentiated business models, co-founded a start-up, and worked in enterprises of various sizes.

Today, Srini is Chief Digital Officer at Tata Communications, a global conglomerate whose network spans over 240,000 kilometres of subsea cable and more than 90,000 kilometres of terrestrial cable. There, he is responsible for Tata Communications’ overall digital and security strategy and execution. Srini is also the global business head for the organisation’s cloud and security businesses, which handle digital transformation initiatives for customers.

Frontier Enterprise recently got in touch with Srini to ask him about a range of business technology topics, including the evolution of digital transformation, its adoption in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, Tata Communications’ developments in artificial intelligence (AI), the future of digital transformation, and much more.

You’ve been with Tata Communications for about 11 years now. What have been the highlights of your time there, and what are the most significant changes in digital transformation you’ve seen over the years?

It has been over a decade since I joined Tata Communications. Interestingly, during this time there has been a paradigm shift in the digital architecture of enterprises. Both personal and professional lives have become more integrated with technology. The concept of being digital first, which did not exist earlier, is now at the core of customer engagement.

With advancements in new-age technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, edge, cybersecurity, 5G, AI, automation and the like, data has become the north star for strategic decision-making for organisations. Manual operations and analysis have evolved into automated workflows and predictive analytics delivering intelligent solutions and insights for better decision-making. The importance of agility and business resiliency has come to the forefront, keeping pace with the constantly evolving economic environment, policies, and technological disruptions. Over time, digital adoption has also become a focus for governments, thereby driving further digital infrastructure and enterprise modernisation. Data protection and privacy laws have become more stringent.

The evolution of Tata Communications itself has been quite remarkable, starting off as a telco in 2002, as well as handling simple voice calls and SMS, to now transforming the digital ecosystems of large enterprises. We enable customers to meet their business goals by leveraging our fundamental asset, the network, with advanced services built on top of it.

How do you think enterprise digitisation is faring in APAC, especially when compared with the other regions of the globe? How has the pandemic impacted enterprise digitisation in APAC?

As per Tata Communications’ recent ‘Leading in a Digital-First World’ survey global report, only 10% of enterprises have the most advanced digital operating models, connectivity platforms, and strategies ensuring secure and trusted operations.

The findings also show that APAC businesses were successful with their digital-first operations (65% in APAC vs 64% globally) more than any other region in the world. Businesses in APAC have been effective in integrating digital technologies and innovative processes into their operating model to fuel growth and build a competitive edge. The pandemic led to a massive upsurge in digitalisation efforts and amplified the need for enterprises to secure these innovations with advanced technologies.

More APAC businesses (48% in APAC vs 45% globally) said they are quite advanced on their journey to become Digital Trailblazers (companies with established mature digital-first operating models) in the next 12-24 months. This is a validation of the digital strategies adopted by the APAC enterprises to become hyperconnected, have trusted digital interactions, and boost employee collaboration and engagement.

Enterprise digitisation and remote work have proliferated since the COVID-19 lockdowns started, but with them came various cybersecurity risks. How has the pandemic influenced Tata Communications’ technology offerings?

The distributed workforce and remote working model has changed the dynamics of risk and cybersecurity. People and organisations have adopted online business models like never before, but so have cybercriminals. This is impacting customers’ perspectives on security too. They no longer view cybersecurity as peripheral, and have considered it as an integral function of their entire IT infrastructure. Additionally, the common practice of adding security as an afterthought is no longer fit for purpose. Businesses are increasingly looking to integrate security into the heart of everything they do at the outset.

Our response to COVID-19 shows our business agility – in keeping our employees safe, and in keeping our customers’ businesses and their employees connected and agile. We are constantly upgrading to meet the growing worldwide demand for new ways of operating, which includes far higher levels of working from anywhere, rising security risks, a shift to digital commerce, and more contactless experiences for employees, customers, and supply chain partners.

What makes Tata Communications’ IZO cloud platform different among competitors that also offer managed cloud and hosting services? 

An acceleration in the digital transformation agenda has driven many organisations to rethink their IT infrastructure and adopt a hybrid cloud approach. Tata Communications’ IZO cloud platform is a comprehensive combination of hardware and software, topped with our managed services. Our cloud platform solution is designed to bring together an agile IT ecosystem with hybrid multi-cloud environments, security, and network. 

Our IZO platform, with its SDWAN overlay, aims to enable networks to be more programmable, intelligent, and secure. Its different variants gives us flexibility to expand our horizons and participate in deals across geographies at competitive price points.

What are some of the most exciting developments in Tata Communications from an AI perspective?

In the last few years, AI has matured greatly to add a certain level of intelligence to algorithms enabling decision-making, beyond just automating repeatable tasks. This not only results in cost savings, but also significantly improves the efficiency, quality, and consistency of the output.

We are actively working on leveraging AI-powered information to better plan and engineer our networks, and generating a lot of time series data to analyse the traffic patterns on our network. We are also shifting to a predictive model where the intelligence derived from AI algorithms helps forecast DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, as well as network and device failures. Furthermore, we are pooling multiple data points catalysed by AI to gauge the requirements from across the digital ecosystem, and design our network architecture to align with that.

In the coming years, AI is going to be a lot more commonplace than before, and its applications will continue to grow steadily.

Tata Communications has been focusing on enterprise digitalisation lately. Could you highlight some of the other technology-enabled transformations the organisation has gone through?

One of our biggest initiatives in the past year was launching our Secure Connected Digital Experience (SCDx) proposition, an integrated approach that seeks to:

  • Enable seamless and secure remote working for enterprises.
  • Create an immersive online experience for customers.
  • Let suppliers connect securely to enterprise core applications.

We are also embracing AI/machine learning (ML) in a big way and embedding them in everything we do. These technologies aid in getting deeper insights on our customers’ needs and challenges, and design more customised solutions to fit their requirements. We are also using AI/ML in conjunction with IoT to better understand and process network edge data, and more effectively protect ourselves and our customers against cyberattacks.

What predictions do you foresee in digital transformations for the next three to five years? Will it slow down as the pandemic is resolved, or will it accelerate further?

In the last two years, there has been a complete overhaul in the functioning of the industry. From distributed work environments and hybrid experiences to an explosion of data and hyperautomation, the change has been phenomenal and we only expect it to expand further from here.

Some of the broader trends we foresee being key in the next year or two are as follows:

  1. Ubiquitous network connectivity will be the foundation for enterprises to drive effective digital transformation. The advent of 5G networks will significantly resolve the bottleneck created by the last mile. There will be wide deployment of 5G networks across the globe in 2022 and the near future, and we are going to see 10 times more connectivity into information infrastructure, which will be a fundamentally big shift.
  2. While enterprises will continue to adopt public cloud, users may be a lot more conscious about where exactly they put their data. For example, people are hedging their bets on multi-cloud strategies to achieve their goal of 100% uptime. Depending on the context and requirements, more enterprises will gravitate towards allocating their data to edge clouds, distributed clouds, and hyperscaler clouds, instead of a blanket move to the public cloud.
  3. Edge computing will gain traction as a strategic avenue for digital transformation. The global rise in data use, the continued push towards innovative technologies like VR and AR, the growth of 5G networks, and a long-term remote workforce will all drive up demand for edge computing. There’s going to be a lot more need for latency-sensitive applications to be in the cloud so enterprises will have to intelligently harness, process, and action data at the edge.
  4. While the IoT has been around for a decade, it will see its true inflection point in the coming year where affordable ubiquitous connectivity will enable lots more connected devices to be embedded within the infrastructure ecosystem.
  5. While we are well aware of the exponential growth in data generation, what will be key in the coming years is processing and prudent discarding of data to analyse and glean relevant insights, and make them actionable for companies.
  6. Security will be the centre point of this entire digital evolution. We are currently at the stage of Security 4.0 where everything is in the cloud, and it is all connected and open, with the surface area for attacks higher than ever before. Hence, stringent measures need to be in place to provide security for the cloud and from the cloud.

With robust data, intelligent insights, and reliable connectivity in a secure and connected digital environment, enterprises will make notable advancements in their digital transformation journey in the next 3-5 years, enabling them to reimagine their existing business and explore opportunities to create new operating models.